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(2002) (Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: Hoping to clear their names, beat their rivals, and save the world, two spy siblings set out for a mysterious island in hopes of recovering a powerful device.
It's been a year since Carmen (ALEXA VEGA) and Juni Cortez (DARYL SABARA) discovered that their parents, Gregorio (ANTONIO BANDERAS) and Ingrid (CARLA GUGINO), were secret spies and then had to rescue them and save the world. Now established "spy kids," the two are called in to rescue Alexandra (TAYLOR MOMSEN), the precocious daughter of the President of the United States (CHRISTOPHER MCDONALD), but are upstaged by rival spy kids Gary (MATT O'LEARY) and Gerti Giggles (EMILY OSMENT).

They're the children of Donnagan Giggles (MIKE JUDGE) who unexpectedly and suspiciously beats out Gregorio as the newly appointed head of the O.S.S. Things get worse when a bunch of waiters drug the adults at that promotion ceremony and steal a "transmooker" device that not only renders all spy gadgets useless, but also endangers the whole world.

Juni is then wrongly accused of being responsible and is fired as a junior spy, resulting in Gary and Gerti being assigned to recover the stolen device. Not content with that, Carmen hacks into the agency's computer, reinstates Juni and reassigns the Giggles to a case in the Gobi Desert.

She and Juni then assign themselves to the missing transmooker case and travel to a mysterious island where they hope to discover who's responsible. Gregorio and Ingrid then get word that their kids are missing and thus set off on a rescue mission accompanied - much to Gregorio's chagrin - by Ingrid's meddlesome parents (RICARDO MONTALBAN & HOLLAND TAYLOR) who were former spies themselves.

As the kids attempt to recover the transmooker, they must not only deal with the efforts of the Giggles clan trying to undermine them, but also the various mutant monsters that genetic scientist Romero (STEVE BUSCEMI) accidentally unleashed on the island.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
After directing the ultra-violent, shoot 'em up action films, "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Desperado," who would have guessed that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez would become best known for helming a decidedly kid-friendly film franchise?

Yet, that's exactly what's occurred with the "Spy Kids" movies. With the original 2001 film, Rodriguez effortlessly transferred his action heavy visual style over to the kid-based version of the James Bond films and created a huge and unexpected hit with more than $112 million in domestic box office ticket sales.

With success, of course, comes the inevitable sequel and Rodriguez has returned, along with most of the original cast for "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams." The film is naturally lacking the novelty of the first where the kids not only learned that their parents were secret spies but also how to use the gadgets to save them - all of which made the original fresh and entertaining. Nevertheless, the writer/director/editor (and then some) has recaptured enough of that film's charm and entertaining action bits to more than satiate its fan base.

With the first film getting all of the introductions and set-up out of the way, this one doesn't waste any time delivering what the target audience wants and that's imaginative, kid-based action. After a somewhat lame opening sequence - that doesn't quite get the juvenile James Bond beginning done with the right amount of pizzazz - the film settles into telling its tale.

The kids are now established spies, but must deal with rival ones while trying to solve the case of a missing "transmooker" - whatever that may be (the film doesn't really get into satisfactory specifics) - that naturally provides a complication in rendering their gadgets useless.

Meanwhile, the parents - who needed rescuing the first time around - now set out on a rescue mission of their own, but must put up with the wife's meddlesome parents who are former spies themselves. The result is a moderately engaging, kid-friendly action/adventure yarn that, if anything, certainly can't be accused of coming up short in the imagination department.

Beyond the expected gadgetry and life as a child bits, Rodriguez has clearly designed a great deal of this picture as a tribute of sorts to legendary stop-motion special effects animator Ray Harryhausen. While the efforts here all digital (as is the entire film) rather than that stemming from physical miniatures, the resultant visual look and aura are pure Harryhausen.

Centaur and dragon-like creatures do battle (shades of "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad") while a small army of sword-carrying and very much alive human skeletons threaten the kids (harking back to "Jason and the Argonauts"). The result is something of a campy yet enjoyable and entertaining throwback to those old stop-motion classics.

It's unfortunate that the main story isn't quite as much fun as those moments or even the first film. Sure, some of the individual scenes are entertaining - more so for kids than adults, but that's the point - but the film's imaginative style, flair and sense don't fill or sustain the plot as much as I would have liked.

That's not to say that it's boring, but rather that it could have used some sprucing up beyond the moment to moment action and adventurous peril it creates for its players. While the likes of Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin and Danny Trejo only reprise their roles from the original in cameo style here, Antonio Banderas ("Original Sin," "Play It to the Bone"), Carla Gugino ("The Center of the World," "Snake Eyes"), Alexa Vega ("The Deep End of the Ocean," "Ghost of Mississippi"") and Daryl Sabara (making just his second feature film appearance) return as the main characters.

I didn't necessarily think that the kids delivered outstanding performances in the original and the same holds true here, although their takes on their characters works for what's expected of them. While Gugino isn't given much to do, Banderas is pretty much reduced to just playing the irritated comedy bit regarding his meddlesome in-laws played by Ricardo Montalban ("The Naked Gun," "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan") and Holland Taylor ("Legally Blonde," "Keeping the Faith").

Matt O'Leary ("Frailty," "Domestic Disturbance") and Emily Osment ("The Secret Life of Girls"") appear as the rival spy kids, but beyond providing some necessary antagonism, they aren't particularly memorable (no doubt hurt by their stereotypical roles). Meanwhile, Steve Buscemi ("Mr. Deeds," "Ghost World") shows up as the secluded mad scientist, Bill Paxton ("Vertical Limit," "U-571") plays a flamboyant amusement park owner and Mike Judge ("Office Space," "Beavis and Butt-head Do America") plays the adult villain.

Overall, there's certainly enough of the familiar as well as the new to please fans of the series. For others, it's passable diversionary entertainment. I only wish that the story had been as wildly imaginative in its overriding plot as it is with its smaller details and the nifty visual style that Rodriguez has one again injected into the proceedings. Not quite as much fun as the first time around, "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 26, 2002 / Posted August 7, 2002

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